They say that when we watch a movie version of a novel we have read and loved, we’re never truly satisfied with the result. It’s because our own little film version has played out in our head as we read the book. Nothing else seems to compare with our original concepts.
One night, two friends who had read my novel, started debating on the personal attributes of one of my characters. One saw Guy, my angel being, as strong and silent. She believed he was full of wisdom and a great friend to have. My other pal believed Guy was insecure, and needed more help from the people around him, than he could give of himself.
Image by Hyena Reality
Somewhere in the middle of those two views, sits my version. I use the word ‘insecure’ on the promotional blurb, and have him described by one of my other characters as a bit ‘Gomer Pyle’. So as an exercise, I started asking others what they thought of this character. One reviewer saw him as someone who has always been on the outside, looking in. A slender angel who is a bit sad that he’s never had a true friend.
As an author, it’s fascinating to hear these other points of view. In fact, what that reviewer said, I had never really thought about, but agree that that is how he turned out to be. As characters find their own voice within your novel, readers hold a mirror that sheds light not only on that character, but how they view their own world as well.
Getting back to my two friends who analysed my angel, they continued to evaluate the central romance in the book. Again this was based on their own personal experience.
My female buddy saw it as a personal growth story centred on the main character, Allan. She also believed that love interest, Warwick, was self-centred. My male colleague definitely read it as a love story, with many obstacles to cross before Warwick and Allan finally get together. The reviewer I asked saw Warwick as a passionate man, who sees things the way he wants to see them, and not as they are. She also summed up Allan as a dreamer who doesn’t have the confidence to go after what he wants, or to express his true feelings.
Again, somewhere in this breakdown sits my version, and as an author this feedback is invaluable. Not only because you realise that what you’ve set out to say is being understood, but also because what you’ve set out to say can be reinterpreted. Come to think of it, that’s how life works. If only our intentions were not up for review, but I digress.
We like to think as artists, we have a fundamental truth to share. We use it as the spine of our story and hope to bring the message home. What we forget is that others may take that message a different way, but like the characters in a novel, how they see another person’s motives depends on their own life experience.